I had a rare opportunity yesterday to travel to the northeastern plains with two amazing artists. We had been invited to stop at the farm house that my grandparents had homesteaded in the early 1900’s. Their purpose in going was to take photographs. My purpose in going was to see the farm again after more than thirty years.
If you look through the websites of these two men: Kit Hedman (www.kithedman.com) and Ron Zito, (www.ronzito.com), you would get the impression that these are two very serious minded artists. And it was fascinating to see the Colorado plains through their eyes. They are both originally from New Jersey. I guess they don’t have an overabundance of tumbleweeds in New Jersey because the tumbleweed population of northeastern Colorado provided endless entertainment on our journey. In fact, when one particularly large one rolled across the road in front of our car, Ron exclaimed, “Look at that one. It’s huge! And look at all those points. Must be a buck.” I knew then, that these were not just serious minded artists, they were also totally and completely nuts. And I was trusting myself to them for the entire day? It would be interesting.
It’s a long way from Denver to Fleming, Colorado. It takes a little over two hours to drive out to Fleming, then another ten minutes or so, and we were at the farm. I recognized the house right away. Our family spent every holiday visiting our Grandma Kohnen in Sterling and our Uncle Jack and Aunt Maribelle out on the farm. It was on this farm that Grandma and Grampa raised their ten children. They also raised winter wheat, cattle, pigs, and chickens. They had a large kitchen garden, numerous cats, and horses.
When Jack and Maribelle took over the farm, they also raised winter wheat. They had some cows for meat and milk, and a large chicken house. I know that Uncle Jack tried pigs for awhile and even had sheep for a brief time. He wasn’t impressed with the intelligence of the sheep so they didn’t last long. They didn’t have horses but they had plenty of cats. Every time we went there, the first thing we did was to find our cousin, Karen. She would know where the kittens were. And there were always kittens. My sister and I would try to talk our parents into letting us stay at the farm for at least one night. They always replied the same way, “But you can’t stay, we didn’t bring your pajamas.” Then we would whip out our pajamas that we had hidden under our coats before we left Grandma’s house in Sterling. They knew the game already and no one was surprised.
The farm was busy. Aunt Maribelle was always cooking or baking or cleaning or, if we were very lucky, making hot chocolate for us with fresh farm milk, including the cream. Uncle Jack was out working in the fields or bringing in the milk cow or driving one of the big tractors or trucks. Even when we visited, we were put to work. We helped to gather eggs, feed the cats and dog, feed the chickens, and occasionally even scrub the kitchen floor on our hands and knees. The farm house was always clean, meticulously clean.
When the farm was sold, after my Uncle Jack developed emphysema and couldn’t work in the fields anymore, the majority of land was sold to other farmers in the area, and the house was sold to another family, who worked in town and didn’t farm.
I have to admit, it was hard to see the farm yesterday. The outbuildings, no longer used for animals, are mostly falling down. Because the family works in town, there is no one at home during the day and the busy place that I remember, seems awfully still and quiet. I think this affected me more than seeing the run-down buildings. I don’t think I ever experienced the farm when I wasn’t surrounded with life and its doings, abundant life and practical work. I know those experiences that I had growing up and spending time on this farm, had a huge impact on my adult life and my teaching. At home, we always managed to find a way to have animals, usually in more abundance than we had time or energy for, but it was good for our children nonetheless! In my kindergarten teaching, I tried to focus on the practical work that was needed. We baked bread together every week and if our classroom needed a rug, we made a rug together. We didn’t do all the little artsy-fartsy projects, we worked.
Kit and Ron explored the property and took photos of a wonderful old truck, among other things. I sort of ignored them, sorry to say. I hope they did get some good photos out of the trip!
Time does pass and things do change. One cannot maintain a large farm lifestyle when you work in the city all day. And it’s an amazing gift to be able to live in the country where you can look all around you and see nothing but the plains – and maybe five neighbors within sight! I am glad that Peg and John were able to raise their family on the old farm. It is obvious that the farm means a lot to them.
And, well, I’ve changed, too. The trip was extremely humbling for me as I realized that my stamina was very low. By the time we finished our lunch in Sterling and started back towards Denver, I was feeling quite ill. I’d overdone it again. Was it because of my Parkinson’s or because of the effects of carrying around the tumors, or a combination of the two? All I could do was to lie down in the back of the car and try not to move. Ron’s car was beautifully clean. I didn’t want to throw up. At one point, I considered asking Ron to just pull over, open the door, and roll me out. I could just curl up by the side of the road. I don’t think I could have felt worse, even if the coyotes were hungry.
I am glad I went, though. Somewhere in my imagination, I can still see my aunt in the farm kitchen and my uncle coming in after a hard day’s work. And in my imagination, I can pull a pair of pajamas out from under my coat and let them know that it’s alright for me to stay the night. I’m prepared!
I’ll even gather the eggs.